Over the stable door: Racecourse tragedy proves hard pill to swallow

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THIS WEEK has been emotional.

I will begin where I left you at Musselburgh racecourse last week on a damp and gloomy day. We had brought Dancer in search of good ground. Only one of his four owners had made the long journey to watch their cheeky chap race. He was in great form and it took two of us to lead him up. My aching calves provided a constant reminder of his delinquent attitude on exercise the previous day.

The jockey settled him on the inside near the back for the first circuit. With only eight rivals to beat there was plenty of room to make a move when needed. On the second circuit he moved closer to the leaders with plenty in hand. Suddenly the jockey behind him ran up close. Heels clipped and a sharp blow from the horse behind suddenly saw Dancer lose his action and he was hastily pulled up. The vet was there instantly. Dancer was walking but obviously uncomfortable We took him to Edinburgh Veterinary Hospital for x-rays. Sadly the blow had caused two fractures to his cannon bone which together were unlikely to mend properly meaning no quality of life for our lovable boy. We had to make the sad decision to let him go. It hit me hard.

The owners were devastated. He was their pride and joy, and we’ll never forget the fabulous days out. He will be a hard one to replace.

The disappointment, sorrow, questioning of career choice drained through me for days. Jack Berry reminded me to keep it real. “Jo, where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock.” I have grown up realising this but it doesn’t get easier.

Almost all my animals - sheep, cattle, horses, dogs, cats - are there to provide our living but they are all part of my extended family sheltered under one large branch. My responsibility. Finally I’m forced to remind myself losing a child would be far worse. I’ve pulled myself together.

It was with slight trepidation I declared my father’s horse, Urban Gale, to run at Southwell on Monday. Because of the rain we looked like drowned rats when the race started. Herbie, as we call him, stuck his head down and kept galloping to catch the leader on the run in, winning by two lengths. He was so happy with himself after the race. Dad was chuffed to bits.

If it wasn’t for racing I’m not sure what Herbie could do, he needs to keep active due to his creaking joints and has a hefty swing with his hind legs so couldn’t be totally trusted out of professional hands.

Now we’re on our way to Cheltenham. An excited bunch taking Rolo for Friday’s big cross country chase. All runners must school over the banks beforehand which we’ll do in the afternoon. My friend Beannie, who lives close by, was prepped to bring her hunter along as a trustable lead. However she misheard me on the phone, thought I wasn’t running and now can’t make it.

To make up for the misunderstanding Beanie has enrolled her friend Charlotte to bring along an old hunter as Rolo’s lead. Last night Charlotte sent me a message: “I’m afraid my best hunter had a hard day today so would you mind if I bring another to accompany Rolo over the jumps?”

“No problem,” I replied. “Will it cope with the banks okay?”

“Oh yes I think so,” she said. “He knows Cheltenham well and has won the Gold Cup. His name is Denman.”